Congressmen Visit Moscow: Trump’s Allies Greeted With Standing Ovation Ahead of Helsinki Talks
60 Minutes — Hot on the Trail.
— Republican troopers in Moscow. A hushed meeting between Vyacheslav Volodin and six congressmen, members of the House of Representatives, is now being held. The footage shows their arrival at the Foreign Ministry. Of course, they were accompanied by the ambassador. But let's move onto to the Duma. Look how cordially, even tenderly, they greeted each other.
Ivan Melnikov, State Duma: “Please note that Vyacheslav Volodin has invited the US congressmen and senators. Let's welcome our colleagues!”
— See it? Many MPs look wary, but they are still applauding, that's interesting.
Nikolay Rybakov, Yabloko: Only the Russian president is greeted this way.
— The Russian president gets more rousing cheers, to put it mildly.
— I don't understand why they all decided to stand up.
— Are you so surprised that they are well-mannered people?
— Wait a second, it's absurd. It's the State Duma session. The congressmen entered the Hall of Sessions to see the process. Why stand up?
— Maybe they greet the head of the State Duma.
— I don't get it. Wait, I'll… They just welcomed the guests by standing up! And then they condemn us for something.
— The Yabloko party would applaud while seated.
— But it's a Russian State Duma session! If someone enters the Hall during the State Duma session, and if it isn't the Russian president, everybody doesn't have to stand up immediately. So, it's absurd. Now they'll pop the cork on the champagne. But still…
— They'll pop champagne on July 17th, after the talks.
— July 17th? It depends on the outcome of the talks.
— And you never know if champagne will be popped here or overseas.
— In Helsinki! Despite what I call awkward developments, I believe there is a chance of normalizing of relations. We've chosen the best time for meeting in Helsinki because now Russia is in the spotlight, in a good sense, thanks to the World Cup. I think it's very important to make use of the points we're gaining now through the World Cup and the positive attitudes toward it worldwide. I hope we'll discuss the event multiple times before the final match. So, it's important to preserve the points and profit from them politically, making Russia more open to the world, putting an end to the confrontation between Russia and the whole world, and Russia's closedness. We have a good chance at that now.
— Mr. Rybakov, let's start from the point that our MPs opened Russia to the Western world by applauding.
— OK, let's put it so.
— Supposing the meeting is coming and is being prepared, why did they come? What do they want to convey? What does the preparation consist of? Why this rhetoric about Crimea? It looks suspicious to us, I can only imagine the reaction of Ukraine. Does it mean they've decided to recognize the reunification?
Jeffrey Tayler, contributing editor at The Atlantic: No, I think… The senators who have come to Moscow are close allies of Trump. They want to break the ground for the Helsinki summit. I think it's a very important move, even if it's a bit of a show. It's unprecedented…
— Why «a bit of a show?»
— I mean, they were given a tour of the Duma, legislators stood up…
— And they are happy to. Why not?
— I believe that it is… Well, I mean «show» in a good sense.
— But you were absent, if you think so, you'd decide then what to do.
— They were sent here for a reason. To meet each other, shake hands, I think even have dinner together. It's the beginning of improvement in relations.
— Do you share the idea that the visit is part of the preparation for the summit, that they will discuss the minutiae?
— Yes, though it's usually the State Department that does it.
— Your magazine provides an in-depth analysis. How would you comment on this?
— I'm saying that it's usually the State Department that does it. But, as you see, there's no Trump team. He isn't surrounded by his associates. And he's unlikely to count on his new Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. In this context, these people might have agreed to it with Trump, he allowed them to come here, because we all know Trump's attitude toward Russia.
— But they were invited by the ambassador.
— Well, yes, the ambassador still works for the State Department, and the President, of course, shapes foreign policy. It's the President's prerogative. So, I think it's very good. I have no idea of what will happen next…
— We also agree that it's good, we just don't quite understand why, and is the goal of these talks.
— I just explained it.
— At least for now. The footage shows Leonid Slutsky, Alexander Zhukov, Volodin, the chairman of the State Duma going to the sidelines of the talks.
Boris Mezhuev, Americanologist: I believe that, of course, Trump gave his approval of the visit, cut some deal with them. But still the Senate, and Congress in general, are keeping a jealous eye on Trump, and the executive is trying to talk to Russia. The Senate and the House of Representatives are known to have prohibited a lifting of the sanctions. I think, despite acting in tow, there's a sort of distrust towards Trump. Who knows what he will agree to? What if he gets on the same page with our president? They want to act independently using legislative contacts to avoid undesirable developments, among other things.
— So, you don't share Jeffrey's point that Trump and the Republicans have united?
— I believe, they are united, of course. But the Senate elite isn't the same as Trump. Those people are largely independent of Trump, and they are trying to act independently. Which is a good thing, because you can't cut a deal with Trump, bypassing Congress. In any case, legislative ties are indispensable to establishing mutual understanding between Russia and the USA. It's impossible to bypass Congress, so their presence here is now crucial. I hope it won't stop here. I hope it will be followed by an equivalent visit by our legislators… Those on the US's blacklist? Well, probably those who aren't. This is the only solution to the issue.
— As a person who didn't applaud today to the US senators, why do you think they touched upon our Crimea?
Alexey Zhuravlev, member of the State Duma: Firstly, applauding a normal practice in any legislature.
— Do you always applaud?
— Yes. When I was in Bavaria, the legislators also stood up and applauded, it's fine.
— We don't condemn you, we want some explanation.
— The legislators were absolutely right to do this. They were right. Almost all of them represent the Southern states, which support Trump most of all. I think it's a kind of his self-indulgence, like, he's not alone in meeting the Russian president, he's backed by the elite. I think it's important for him now so that he doesn't stay alone. Both Republican and Democrats are united in their Russophobic stance and support for the sanctions. But today they say they want to come and see it with their own eyes. They're encumbered by myths and stereotypes. I'm convinced that the most important thing we must do is to dispel these myths and stereotypes. I'm sure both our diplomats and the senators will succeed. I'm sure that their vision of Russia will change. In this context, it's absolutely fine.
Boris Mezhuev: It's telling that Bob Corker, head of the Foreign Relations Committee, didn't come. He's a Republican as well. But he's rather critical of Trump, and he's going to retire. But the head of the Appropriations Committee came.
— Some of the senators in the delegation are responsible for finance, others for defense. We were also surprised at the composition of the delegation. At the same time, they're talking about Crimea.
— If you're elected to the Senate and you want to work in a committee, you'll choose the Appropriations Committee, I'm not kidding. Defense, Foreign Affairs are for losers.
— K Street lobbyists are waiting in line to get there.
— Yes, indeed. Each state has a senior senator and a junior senator. The junior is usually elected later. Of course, the senior always tries to get in this committee because it finances all the executive. Of course, the visit was agreed on. It's important because last August, Congress adopted a law which doesn't prohibit but hinders the lifting of the sanctions.
— Right you are.
— Now Trump has to persuade Congress…
— Without permission…
— I didn't interrupt you. Trump has to persuade Congress in writing to lift sanctions. That's why they arrived. They're preparing the meeting with Trump which…
— Again, you believe in Trump. Bolton said they wouldn't lift sanctions.
— Again, what are sanctions? Frankly speaking, Crimea's population doesn't care if there is a US consulate there or not, right?
— Most likely.
— But, given that these people now have to…
— Why? They'll have a place to rally.
— Given that these people… They have to keep Ukrainian passports to go abroad. And they get arrested in Ukraine like the crew of our seine boat.
— Give me an example of people arrested.
— Listen carefully, I mentioned the «Nord» seine boat crew. Thus, if the Americans lift sanctions de facto, preserving them de jure… For example, if the Crimean population gets US visas on Russian passports… It will be enough.
— It seems to me that our only problem is to make sure the Crimean population can get visas on Russian passports.